B.C. manhunt over: What we know and might never know about the case
Despite autopsy results that show the two B.C. murder suspects died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, many questions remain about the case that gripped the country for nearly three weeks.
On Wednesday August 7, police said they discovered the bodies of 18-year-old Bryer Schmegelsky and 19-year-old Kam McLeod in the dense bush outside the remote community of Gillam, Man.
The childhood friends from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island had been the subject of an intense manhunt that spanned four provinces and lasted for more than two weeks after they were named as suspects in the killings of a young tourist couple and charged in the death of a 64-year-old Vancouver man in northern B.C.
Gillam and the surrounding area became the focal point of RCMP search efforts after a burned-out SUV connected to Schmegelsky and McLeod was found near the town on July 22.
Since then, officers from across Canada scoured 11,000 square kilometres of dense wilderness before they spotted an abandoned boat on the shore of the Nelson River on Friday. The boat and several other items scattered along the shore that police said belonged to the suspects helped lead them to the bodies, RCMP said.
Now the RCMP have added that there are “strong indications” the two suspects were alive for a few days since they had last been seen -- and were alive during the manhunt in Gillam, Man.
Officers announced on Monday they also found a pair of firearms near the bodies. They are working to confirm whether the guns are connected to the murders.
“Investigators are now assessing all items located in Manitoba, along with the previous findings related to the three northern B.C. homicide investigations, in order to gain more clarity into what happened to Leonard Dyck, Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese,” the RCMP wrote in the release.
“The assessment will review all the investigative findings to date, whether it is statements, evidentiary time lines, physical or digital evidence, and the BC RCMP have also have engaged our Behavioural Analysis Unit.”
So what happens next, and what might we learn about a case that kept many of us guessing for the better part of three weeks?
RCMP officers in B.C. confirmed Monday that the remains found in northern Manitoba were indeed the bodies of Schmegelsky and McLeod and that the two murders suspects died by suicide through self-inflicted gunfire.
Officers say the two suspects had been dead for several days before they were found at around 10 a.m. on Aug. 7, though their exact date and time of death is not known.
Chris Lewis, a former commissioner for the Ontario Provincial Police and CTV’s public safety analyst, said forensic scientists should be able to determine how long the men had been dead for when officers found them.
“Through forensic testing and the larvae of bugs and a whole pile of other things that forensic scientists will look at, they should be able to narrow it down to an approximate day,” he said.
Retired RCMP inspector Linda Gillis Davidson said the autopsies will provide investigators with a “tremendous” amount of information about how the men died and their connection to the murders in B.C.
“Forensics itself is going to provide hair, fibers, footwear impressions, articles of clothing. Then they’ll do the toxicology, which will tell them were they smoking, were they taking some sort of medication, etc.,” she told CTV News Channel. “It will prove the identification of the body and it will provide blood evidence.”
Benson-Podolchuk said it’s possible the bodies had gone undetected in the woods for some time because of their location.
“You could have three people walk by them and they might have already been dead, but you wouldn’t have noticed them because it’s so difficult to walk around and it’s dense,” she said. “If they blended in with the ground in any type of way or they were covered by a shadow, you wouldn’t have found them.”
Gregg McCrary, a former FBI agent and criminal profiler, previously told CTV News Channel that he doesn’t think the deaths were accidental.
“What we find with these individuals is there’s not only the loathing of others that led to the homicide, but self-loathing and that’s sort of a combination of rage and shame and perhaps guilt on their part combined with a hopelessness of the situation that tends to result in suicide,” he said.
The other possibility, according to McCrary, is the men didn’t feel any guilt or remorse and they died by suicide as an effort to “not subjugate themselves to the rule of law” or as an “last act of defiance.”
While Schmegelsky and McLeod were only considered suspects in the killing of tourists Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese on the side of the Alaska Highway on July 15, they were charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia professor Leonard Dyck, whose body was discovered four days after the couple.
Lewis said investigators and the public may never know why the young men did what they did.
“Unless they made some sort of note or had some communication with somebody earlier on while they still had cellphone signal that we don’t know about yet, we won’t know why,” he said.
Mark Mendelson, a former homicide detective for the Toronto police, said investigators will be searching for their cellphones in the area where the bodies were found if they haven’t discovered them already.
“Maybe there are pictures. Maybe there are text messages that weren’t retrieved, WhatsApp conversations, manifestos for lack of a better term,” he said. “Hopefully those phones were not damaged by water or anything else and they can retrieve something from there to give us an idea.”
Even if they do find the cellphones, Mendelson said the families of the victims and the fugitives may never receive the answers they’re seeking.
“There’s never closure,” he said. “That’s the one thing I think we’re not going to get at the end of the day is answers to those questions. What was running through their minds? What were they thinking? What was their motivation?”
Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair echoed that sentiment during a press conference in Surrey, B.C. on Thursday.
“Even though there is no likely trial in these proceedings, those answers are all still important and I have every confidence in the RCMP to get those answers,” he said.
McCrary said he expects investigators to take a deep dive into the social media profiles of the two suspects to see if they ever posted anything that would provide a clue into their mindsets before the manhunt began.
“The FBI refers to these sorts of things as legacy tokens, in other words, they leave some token or some legacy as to what motivated this,” he explained. “If we can find those things we may be able to establish it [the motive].”
The unsolved crime
Lewis said one of the most important things he hopes will come out of the discovery of the bodies and their subsequent autopsies is information pertaining to the deaths of tourists Fowler and Deese.
Because Schmegelsky and McLeod were only named as suspects in that case, Lewis said the murders remain unsolved.
“The most significant thing during those forensic examinations in my view is to solve those other two murders and prove that we don’t have other killers on the loose,” he said.
Lewis said forensic scientists will be looking for DNA evidence on the bodies to link the suspects to those murders.
“What they’ll be looking for is some evidence to link them either to the two deceased persons or to that scene,” he explained.
“For example, if there’s some transfer of a hair or a fiber from the deceased to the killers or vice versa, whether they kept something, stole anything, whether it be a knife or some memento or some sort. Something that investigators can say this evidence links these two people to these two people or the murder scene.”
The public safety analyst said he is hopeful with the technology available today that investigators will be able to find something to connect Schmegelsky and McLeod with the murders of the Australian-American couple and provide the victims’ families with some answers.
Lewis said he’s also confident the public will learn much more about the case in the coming days now that a criminal trial is no longer on the table.
“They [RCMP] hadn’t said much about that search and what they found along the water on the river, but at the same time, they thought there might be a new criminal trial at some point,” he said. “That’s obviously not going to happen if in fact these are the bodies of who we think they are so they should be able to say more to let the public know.”
Conversely, Gillis Davidson said she thinks the RCMP still has to be cautious with the amount of information they release to the public in case they discover new evidence that implicates a new suspect, such as the presence of a new blood type.
“They’re being very cautious because if they step up and say ‘Yes, here’s everything we have’ and they find out there’s other people involved, they’ve pretty much kiboshed a trial,” she said.
--- With files from CTVNews.ca writer Cillian O'Brien